We’re Car Free

skull/cell phone street art

Street art by Skullphone.

Well, at least temporarily. Some idiot piloting a SUV sturdy enough to patrol the streets of Kabul rear-ended me last week. He was probably busy posting a Yelp review on his smart phone.  I’m still in pain and our car is totaled, but I’m thankful I’m alive.

In the meantime Kelly and I have no car. Normally this isn’t much of an issue as I can get around by bike/public transit. But my neck and back are too creaky right now to do that. I’m considering some crazy options:

Become agoraphobic
I remember an interview with actor Harry Dean Stanton in which he described the way he deals with the craptacularness that is the City of Los Angeles. His answer? He never leaves the house. I could have stuff delivered–everything from straw bales to groceries are just a click or phone call away. Why venture out on this town only to see miles of deteriorating streets overseen by corrupt politicians? When I want to get some nature time,  I could rent a car. We’d save thousands of dollars.

Buy a Car
Car shopping, for me, is about as fun as a root canal without Novocaine. Was the 19th century carriage industry this scammy?

Take the car of the idiot who hit me
My new Jeep Wranger would be courtesy of the music video producer who totaled my car. (His mammoth vehicle, by the way, was hardly scratched.)  You should have to face consequences for negligence–this was not an “accident,” after all. Wreck someone else’s car by your own stupidity and you should have to donate your car to the person you hit. Nassim Taleb would suggest that the same principle should apply to Wall Street bankers. There would be a whole lot less texting while driving and financial risk taking if, as Taleb puts it, “captains went down with their ships.”

Move to Venice, Italy
Not only is Venice car free it’s also bike, moped, bus and train free. But then I’d probably end up in a nautical accident caused by a texting gondolier.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
I’m cursing my useless music degree. If only I had gone to a college that combined rigorous writing classes with machine shop and auto repair. My dream: a Kickstarter campaign to fund the conversion of a 1970s era Dodge Viper into a bad-ass electric vehicle. Or fuel it with our humanure methane digester. Airbrush the Root Simple logo on the door and folks would really notice our arrival at book signings–especially when we do donuts in the parking lot.

root simple viper

So, dear readers, what do you think we should do?

Is Urban Homesteading Over With?


It seems that we’re back in a period of irrational exuberance. I know because I keep hearing about people lining up to buy crumbling 1,000 square foot bungalows in dodgy Los Angeles neighborhoods for $1,000,000. History tells us that during these periods folks ditch their chicken coops and vegetable gardens and head to the mall to shop.

I hope I’m wrong, that during our next economic bubble people will be more sensible. And the fundamentals have not changed, specifically the uncertain future of fossil fuels. I’m not trading my trips to the feed store for a shopping spree at Hot Topic anytime soon.

So I thought I’d plug a few search terms relating to urban homesteading into Google Trends to see what is going on. This is, of course, highly unscientific–Google Trends may just reflect media generated interest, not what people are actually doing. Here’s what I found:

Backyard Chickens

Many urban homesteading activities are seasonal–in spring people start searching for information on chickens and vegetable gardens, so you’ll see upward spikes towards the end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Judging from the results on “backyard chickens,” it looks like that it’s a trend that is growing in popularity. Some of this activity may be related to legalization efforts, but I’d like to think that it reflects a growing dissatisfaction with our industrial agriculture system.

Gardening

It seems that searches for gardening of all kinds–I tried “vegetable gardening,” “vegetable seeds,” “rose pruning” and “lawn care,” are down. I think this may reflect a demographic shift–an older generation dying off. We need to get young people gardening!

Bread Baking

No wonder I can’t seem to offer enough bread baking classes.

Bicycles


Cycling is down, but I’m sure this reflects disenchantment with Lance Armstrong and professional cycling.

Searches for “bike commuting” are up slightly.

It’s inevitable that media interest in home ec topics will decline when the stock market is up. Just remember how quickly vegetable gardens and chicken coops were abandoned in the 1980s. But I have a good feeling that the lessons of the last few years will stick better than they did in the 1970s. What do you think?

How to Cycle Safely

No I’m not making this up. Thank you Bikesnobnyc for finding a “bicycle accident fun set.”

To follow up on yesterday’s post Is Cycling Too Dangerous? I thought I’d post some tips and resources I’ve found handy for staying out of trouble on a bike.

Tips

First, I’m assuming that we’re all following the rules of the road, i.e. stopping at red lights, riding with traffic, as well as using lights, wearing a helmet etc. And I’m talking about rules for adults here–kids are a different situation. These are just a few of what I consider the most important things I’ve learned:

  • Route choice. I carefully choose my regular routes to maximize the time I spend on quiet, seldom traveled side streets or in bike lanes/paths. I will go well out of my way to avoid high speed, bike-unfriendly streets. When going to a place I’ve never biked before I choose a route ahead of time on a map. Google has a bike option now that can work as a starting point. Many cities also have bike maps that can also be handy.
  • When going through an intersection watch out for people making left tuns. Assume that you are not seen even if you are wearing a florescent pink bunny suit. Also watch out for people making right turns. Always assume the worst is about to happen and have a plan to either turn quickly or slam on the brakes.
  • Avoid the door zone. There are rare exceptions when I will dip into the door zone briefly (only while going very slowly). But for the most part you should stay out of it. It is impossible to predict if a door will open.
  • Lane positioning is an art not a science. It comes with experience. At any given spot on a road I might be further to the left or right depending on what time of day it is, what the weather is like and the general “mood’ of the street. A good guide to getting the hang of how far to the left or right to be is an excellent book The Art of Cycling by Robert Hurst.
  • Controlling anger. This is the skill that took the longest. I’ve since learned to ignore all honking and even the most egregious behavior on the part of motorists. Arguments are not worth the time and can quickly escalate to violence. Plus you come off like the Portlandia bike dude.
  • The sidewalk is, generally, not a good place to be. The problem comes when you roll off the sidewalk and into the intersection. It’s asking to be hit by a motorist turning right or left. They won’t see you and you can’t dodge the car as well as you could as a pedestrian.

Resources

  • Online I really like the website bicyclesafe.com
  • And, once again: The Art of Cycling by Robert Hurst. I’m suprised that more people don’t know about this book. It changed my life and saved my ass on more than one occasion.
  • Lastly, a friend of mine, attorney Ross Hirsch has a checklist you can download and carry with you in case you’re in an accident. You can find it here (pdf). It has a list of things you should write down as well as California laws relating to cycling. Even if you don’t live in California the checklist is handy.

Please feel free to add other tips you think I should have mentioned in the comments.

Is Cycling Too Dangerous?

Photo by Dru Marland.

I’ve been hit by cars twice cycling around Los Angeles. In the first accident a medical delivery driver made a left turn in front of me and I collided with the rear panel of his car. It was his fault but, initially, the driver’s employer tried to come after me for $900 worth of damage. Fortunately, their insurance company took my side in the matter and even replaced my bent fork. In the second accident, a motorist bumped me from the right. I’m not sure what happened, but I think he was merging out of a parking space and didn’t see me. Thankfully, they were minor collisions and I walked away from both without a scratch. But the cycling death of an acquaintance and the serious accidents of several friends has caused me to consider the risks of cycling, particularly in this less than bike friendly city.

An excellent blog post on the Guardian takes up the question of the costs and benefits of cycling. Author Peter Walker does the right thing, in my opinion, by seeking the opinion of public health experts. One, Dr. Harry Rutter, has this to say:

All activities carry a risk. For some reason there seems to be strong focus on the risk of injury associated with cycling. Clearly, when deaths do takes place that’s tragic, and we need to do all we can to avoid them. But I think there is a perception that cycling is much more dangerous than it really is.

This focus on the dangers of cycling is something to do with the visibility of them, and the attention it’s given. What we don’t notice is that if you were to spend an hour a day riding a bike rather than being sedentary and driving a car there’s a cost to that sedentary time. It’s silent, it doesn’t get noticed. What we’re talking about here is shifting the balance from that invisible danger of sitting still towards the positive health benefits of cycling.

Having volunteered on the board the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition for a few years, I’m well aware of how hard it is to make our cities more bike and pedestrian friendly. Another expert Walker talks to compared the struggle for safer cycling and walking infrastructure to efforts to curb smoking, noting that the anti-tobacco struggle took 60 years to get going.

The article concludes with a provocative conclusion, “There are two interventions that we know increase walking and cycling: living in the Netherlands and living in Denmark.”

So what do you readers think? Is cycling worth the risk?

Film Industry Blocks Bike Lanes, City of LA Doesn’t Care

Film industry trucks block bike lanes all the time here in Los Angeles, particularly along busy and fast moving Sunset Boulevard. Shutting down a bike lane on Sunset forces cyclists to merge into traffic that is sometimes going as fast as 50 miles an hour. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.

Not much room between a fast moving bus and a film industry truck.

As to the legality of blocking a bike lane I don’t have a good answer, but in my opinion it doesn’t matter. Even if it is legal, that doesn’t make it right or safe. Is a film production worth a traumatic brain injury or a death?

Those of us who ride a bike in Los Angeles need your help. I want get the word out that:

  • Elected officials in the City of Los Angeles (in this case, Councilman Garcetti’s district) do not take the safety of cyclists and pedestrians seriously enough.
  • The film industry values profits over human lives.

Please Tweet, Facebook and link to this post even if you don’t live here. Appeals to the police department and elected officials in the past have done nothing to fix this problem. All we get are excuses and, once LAPD calls the film crew, hand made signs like the one below:

In Portland, Oregon cyclists get a detour:

To contact those responsible for this situation please email the following:

Film L.A. (the non-profit entity that coordinates and processes filming permits): [email protected]
Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti: contact form 

Like most cyclists here in LA, I also drive, walk and take public transportation so I understand this issue from all sides. We need equity in our transportation choices and we all need to stay safe.

UPDATE: Looks like the city has “fixed” the problem with slightly more official looking signs:

Too bad it’s still dangerous. I guess it’s going to take a death to fix this problem.

UPDATE 8/29/12: More coverage in The Eastsider and Streetsblog.

Picture Sundays: Bike Rack With Bee Smoker

Bike Snob NYC predicted back in 2010 that beekeeping would be the new fixed-gear. Don’t know where I found this picture (Facebook?) but it looks like bikes and bees are achieving a kind of synergy. I think this is a custom rack just for that handsome Dadant smoker, which like the design of the bicycle, has not changed much in a hundred years:

Dadant smoker in 1910.

Does this mean that Dadant will come out with a titanium smoker?

Barfing and Bikes: Why You Might Want Fenders

Barf Blog reports on an unusual study that took a look at why a an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness occured at the world’s largest bike race in Norway. In short, mud from cattle grazing areas splashed up onto the faces of participants.

Now I wouldn’t see the need to repeat this if I hadn’t met a cyclist here in Los Angeles that something similar happened to. In his case it was a case of giardia–his doctor theorized that the little buggers came up from the gutter via the wheel and landed on the top of his water bottle. He was very sick for months and lost a lot of weight.

Portlandians will laugh at our lack of fenders down in sunny Los Angeles. Perhaps this study might be enough to convince even roadies to get some. Well, only if there are $2,000 titanium fenders.

My Trip to Maker Faire


Getting ready for the earth oven workshop this weekend meant that I never got around to reporting on my trip to Maker Faire up in San Mateo on the 19th. I spoke in the low-tech “Homegrown” shed far away from the high powered tesla coil displays happening elsewhere. To add to the low tech/high tech irony, I was not able to use my PowerPoint and had to speak extemporaneously. This worked out for the better, as I was able to pull up a member of the audience to demonstrate her solar cooker–much more fun than showing pictures of solar cookers. And, after all, maybe it’s time we retire PowerPoint.

Some of the things I spotted at Maker Faire:

Long lines for the tiny house. I’ll review Lloyd Kahn’s awesome tiny house book later this week (he gave a talk just before me). Not sure what’s up with the white robe outfit in the foreground.

Also spotted: bamboo bikes!

Cornelia Hoskin, who curated the Homegrown Village part of Maker Faire, her husband and new bambino. Cornelia also runs homegrown.org.

Yes, there were paintings done by snails.

Solar popped popcorn.
A rep from Sweet Maria’s Coffee gave a great demo on all the ways you can roast your own coffee.

Expensive AK-47 toting garden gnomes.

And solar powered bikes. Not sure how this would work out on an LA street.

Someone in the Homegrown area was processing greywater in bulk containers planted with bamboo.

Overall I had a great time. It was a wee bit heavy on the robots and 3d printer gadgets but that’s to be expected. At least there were a few chickens present to balance out the proceedings. However, next year I’m coming with an overhead projector: